After packing the food up, and making sure that everything stayed sealed in their containers, Annalice told her mom what she had packed into the other two packs. Her mom fussed about how many maps and books were being taken, but Annalice wouldn't be parted from any of her books or maps.
Out on the back porch Annalice found her dad and brother lounging on the porch furniture.
“I will be off once I grab my bow and quiver, and hunting knives from the weapons safe.” Annalice told her dad as she put her bundle of food down beside her other three packs.
“Okay, but don't rely on hunting to primarily feed you Annalice.” Jeremy said as he watched his daughter walk over to where the hunting gear was stored.
The weapons were stored in a shack that Annalice's dad and papa had built together many years ago, it was small, but it worked perfectly. Considering Annalice's dad had sold his hunting rifle because of how little he used it during the hunting season now. The set of hunting knives belonged to Annalice, the hand crafted welsh long bow was and is presently Annalice's favourite hunting weapon. With an experts eye she choose enough arrows to fill her largest quiver, once full she put her bow in its slot on the side of the quiver, grabbing her knives she went back outside.
By the time that Annalice was able to get properly away from her house the sun had nearly set behind the mountains in the distance. It didn't take long for Annalice to reach the trees, because she was being weighed down by her four packs it took longer than usual, but she knew where she headed. The area in which Annalice was headed towards was a clearing just beyond the tree line, an area that the wood creatures went too often, and where she first met the wood creatures when she was very young and still met with them. The Stags where known to be seen in the clearing later at night and early in the morning, over the years the Stags got so used to Annalice showing up with her supplies that they seemingly adopted her into their herd, by doing so they brought her to areas that were extremely difficult to reach if one didn't the area. Sometimes the areas that Annalice was brought to had not been seen by any living human in so long that only a few of the structures were still standing, these findings eventually were recorded in her black book when she was given it, due to this no one except for her has ever seen the pages of the black book. Often times when exploring Annalice would sketch the ruins, documenting her findings on paper, and marvelling over the architecture and at how the civilization could have worked when the buildings where in their glory. One thing that all of the ruins held in common was one building that was hardly touched by time, it had a chest in the very centre of the structure, all though the vines where extremely thick they had not busted through the chest or had grown through it. For reasons unknown, each of the ruins that Annalice had visited had a structure very similar or exactly like the first one she had visited when she was ten years old. Keeping her findings a secret was difficult, due to the many questions that she wanted to ask, but she knew that no one should know about her findings yet.
Ultimately Annalice wanted to see if she could figure out why there was only one fully standing structure in each area, over the years she had revisited each of the areas and found out that the people that would have lived there would have been Vikings more than likely because of the etching being in Norse not in Cymraeg, the buildings were made of stone, and had been expertly built. Although it seemed as though the stone had been melted, a fire that could melt the stone of every building and only leave one standing would be very strange, the idea of fire being hot enough to leave nothing behind of the people or buildings would have to be over thousands of degrees Celsius. So the one structure was never close to the fires or was a stone that required more heat to melt or crack, even the caves around and underneath the areas where full of cracked and melted stone, there was no sign of explosions above or beneath the ground. Hopefully over the time of a month Annalice would be able to finally find out what had happened so many years ago around the base of the mountain.
Once in the clearing Annalice was greeted by the herd of Stag’s, three of the larger bucks went up to Annalice and nudge at her packs, indicating that they had somewhere that they wanted to bring her. After taking off three of her packs and securing them onto the three Stags she followed them out of the clearing and onto a trail that she hadn’t been down in many years, the path was well travelled, but it was the path that the Stag’s used to come and go from the clearing. Annalice had been down this trail only once before, and was brought to the farthest of the ruins via the trail. If going down this trail brought her to another one of the ruins it would be amazing, but finding out why the areas were in ruins would be even more amazing, but there have been no structures that were standing other than the one stone structure in each of the ruins. The chests in them might have something to do with history of the areas, or they just might be large boulders carved to look chests. Wherever Annalice was being led to would be an amazing adventure to be sure, whether it be the answer to why the ruins where there in the first place or how they became ruins.
As Annalice walked along through the woods past the ruins that she had been brought to last time, she noticed that the woods got thicker than she had remembered; the trees in this section of the woods were denser and much larger. Unlike the trees directly around the ruins, these trees were at least three feet in circumference minimum, and over ten feet tall, the canopy made the woods dark much earlier. The evening sky could sometimes be seen through the gaps in the leafy ceiling, but none of the dying light reached the ground. Walking along the dark path seemed to take forever, the surroundings didn’t change often, and there were only a few open areas that allowed for the evening light to shine through. In those small clearings there were many wild flowers, many of them were blossoming but many near the very centre of the clearings were closed, hiding their brilliance at night in order to get the bright rays of sun during the day. As much as Annalice wanted to stop and gather some of the flowers she knew that she had quite a ways to go until she reached her destination, the three Stag’s never faltered, they kept going; they knew were the path led to. So Annalice followed behind like a lost puppy, knowing that their masters knew the way home, Annalice was used to this feeling, she had no problem following the Stag’s to wherever they were taking her. At the end of the trail would be something worth the extra long hike, but whatever it was would have to wait for day, for the night was young and the stars were bright over top of the canopy.
Along the way many different lakes and streams were scattered along the trail, when brought to obstacles the Stag’s simply led Annalice around or over the obstacles. The Stag’s helped Annalice with going over some strange structures along the ways that might have been walls once long ago, put there by the inhabitants to mark the boundaries of their territory. Some of the lakes had old stone buildings that had water wheels near the lakes mouth; the water wheels were still turning because of the constant running of the water from the rivers that feed them, how the wheels were still working over such long time was a mystery in its self. Most of the time the wheel would end up disintegrating or would fall apart due to water damage, but these wheels where spinning as though they had been kept up over the years, as though someone lived in the area; yet there were no lights in the buildings near the water wheel. This led to the question of what were the wheels made of to have the ability to not break down over the centuries of not being looked after. The lakes all had things in common, the water wheels that where still turning, the feeling that the trees closest to the water’s edge where watching your every move, the structures around the lakes where not destroyed in the same fashion as the ones in the ruins that held the one standing structure. These buildings were naturally falling apart from age not from some oddity, they were just old, and the process of falling apart was not sped up. Even though the woods were unravelling more questions faster than it could provide answers to those newfound questions, Annalice still found it amazing to be able to go through the woods at night without any time restrictions.
The Stag’s kept walking towards the mountains, in the clearings the mountains size was becoming incomprehensible and Annalice began to feel like an ant. The white capped mountains where looming above her and the Stag’s, the feeling of being so close to the mountains was exhilarating for Annalice. She had never been this close to the mountains before. By the time that the Stag’s stopped for the night Annalice was still wondering what was scattered across the mountains cliff face.
A small whine from one of the Stag’s got Annalice’s wandering attention, with a jolt of surprise Annalice noticed that she had almost walked into a cave without checking to see if it was safe.
“Thank you, I nearly walked in there blindly. Now I wonder where we are, I bet you know exactly where we are, don’t you.” Annalice asked aloud as she walked back to the Stag’s to take her packs off of them, in order to place them on the ground outside of the caves entrance.
The Stag’s went into the cave, not worrying about what may lay within. Worried about what could happen to them Annalice followed after grabbing a head lamp, turning it onto its lowest setting she preceded inside the cave.
The walls of the cave were covered in paintings, and the rear of the cave could easily be made out from the entrance with Annalice’s head lamp. The Stag’s stared back at her, as though they knew that there was nothing in the cave that would not harm her in any way. With a small shrug of her shoulders Annalice went back to grab her four packs she had placed on the ground, dragging them into the cave on the oddly smooth cave floor to the back wall. Annalice noticed that there was a dip in the floor large enough for a fire to be lit, within it. There were dark marks in the pit, from the last people that had lit a fire within the cave still. Gathering wood for a small fire was an easy task, as there was a lot of dry wood around the cave entrance, more than enough to light a small fire in the premade pit. Lighting the fire was easy for Annalice to do, for the wood was as dry as paper, and there was no wind in the area causing a wind tunnel within the cave. The fire lit the entire cave, illuminating the cave from the entrance to the rear, there were very few shadows cast within the cave. One thing that cast a long shadow on the back wall of the cave was a chest, surprisingly enough the chest was a true extension of the wall. There were no extra or double shadows indicating a separation from the wall, it was flush against the back of the cave, meaning that it was like the many other stone chests Annalice had happened upon in the ruins. The difference was that this was a cave, not a building, although the cave had been untouched by time, not even the animals must come here often, there was no water damage on the floor or roof of the cave. The dip in the floor that served as the fire pit had held no water in it either, and this area got rain frequently, and mounds of snow in the winter. But there was no indication of what the weather had done to the cave. The only sign that the this cave was not natural was that the walls of the cave were perfectly curved in order for optimum surface area to be achieved for the painting the large wrap around mural, although unlike most murals, this one had all the lines indented in, in order to preserve the paint that was used so many years ago.
The mural told about what had happened to the area, of who had settled in the area. The group of people that had settled were Vikings; Annalice deducted this by the ship designs, as they were long boats with the heads of serpents on the bow. This was generally seen as an indication of the Viking ships, although no one really knows why this was done. Other than it was replicated by pirates and most exploratory naval ships afterwards, but these ships were different from the fancy looking exploratory and pirate ships, they had battering rams on the carvings, large pieces of metal curved to go through dams and any debris that could end up in the way of the ship. Like modern Ice Braking ships, but constructed out of wood, and who knows how old. The etchings would had to have been from shortly after they decided to permanently settle in the area, although this range of mountains was no where’s near the ocean, it was truly land locked other than the rivers that led inland. Choosing to be near the mountains suggested many ideas about the Vikings not being welcomed by the costal people and more land locked Welsh, or that they wanted the Vikings to be wiped out by whatever did wipe them out.
The imagery showed signs of prosperity at first with minor nuisances, the livestock population started to lessen in each scene, fires where seen farther along the wall. The source of the fire was something that was able to fly; a symbol of a hammer was first used to depict the fires source, but later on changed to a symbol of a great lizard on fire. Hinting towards the idea of Dragons living in the area at once possibly, but how could that be, large lizards liked being in a warm area, not a place that was frozen for almost nine months out the year. Mind you sometimes there were mild winters in the area, but that is a rarity that hasn’t happened in a very long time as far as Annalice knew. The cave must have been the recorded history of the Vikings that had settled here, from the time they landed to the time they were killed by the great fires. When the mural got to the end of their history the etching was noticeably sloppy, the colours were not as even or as defined either, as though the artist and carver both feared for their lives and knew that the end was coming.
Either way, the cave was in a strange place, and the stone chest was even stranger. It didn’t look as though it had been opened since the area had been abandoned, so it might not open anymore. But Annalice thought it was worth trying to open the chest.
“What is with carving out this cave and putting a stone chest in while carving, all it is, is a block of rock sitting there…?” Annalice trailed off midsentence as she bent down and moved the latch around. The latch was still able to be lifted, although it was stuck in place, this did not surprise her. The chest was as old as the cave was, so the stone latch would be hard to lift of course, but the latch wouldn’t lift because of it being sealed. It would lift by the slightest bit, giving way by a fraction of a centimetre, as though the chest was sealed by air. This idea was strange in itself, but the lid of the stone chest did have the ability move. Annalice realised the latch, letting it be sucked back into place. It didn’t help that the chest was a traditional square box that was used by most Vikings and Welsh people that lived back when stone carving was more prominent.
Backing away from the chest Annalice went over to her supplies, knowing that she had brought something that would allow her to open the chest.
After a few minutes, Annalice found that she didn’t have anything strong enough in her supplies pack, and so went outside to find a strong enough stick to pry the chest lid free. This proved to not be an easy task.
By the time that Annalice had found a strong enough stick it was noon of the next day, she had spent the whole night and morning investigating the cave and finding a stick to pry open the stone chest with. Heading back to the cave took a little while as she had to go a ways form the cave, but the notion of hunger drove Annalice to get to the cave faster. Once at the cave Annalice got some of her food out of her smallest pack, and planned out how she would get the chest open.
With the large stick Annalice was able to get the chest to stay open as much as possible, which was not all that much. The chest was open by only five centimetres, but this was a high improvement from forcing it open by hand. The chest still wanted to remain sealed, but Annalice was not about to give up on opening the chest.
Annalice worked at opening the chest for quite a while, when she managed to finally be able to see into the chest the air started to rush into the chest, helping her to open it a little more. This moment of success didn’t last long, the chest tried to seal many times after Annalice was able to get the stick wedged in between the lid and the base of the chest. From there Annalice was able to carefully use the stick as a lever to open the chest, this took a while as Annalice didn’t want to break the stick, but she noticed that air kept rushing past her and into the chest.
With one final push on the stick after working at it for at for a few minutes, the chest opened with a forceful burst, forcing Annalice onto her back. With the rush of air entering into the chest it blew out Annalice’s small fire, drenching her in a dim darkness. The rush of air ended shortly after it started, adding to the mystery of the chest, for surly a chest has to have a bottom.
Going over to the chest Annalice noticed two things, the underside of the lid was etched and painted to fit in with the cave wall behind it, and secondly that the rear wall of the cave now made complete sense.
The curved back of the cave was clearly a large map of the area, completed when the lid of the chest was brought up to lay flat against it, the chests lid mapped out the small area that surrounded the cave. The location of the cave was in the foothills closest to the mountains, and was between the two largest Viking communities, but the hill had a Welsh outpost on it. It must have been destroyed by the Vikings at some point as the lines that had been etched in were covered in the same green that the forest was, showing the merging of the hill and the woods trees. This only proved to make more questions that didn’t have answers, as the cave was surly man made due to the perfect roundness of the cave, and caves are rarely found in a hill. The chest was different with its deep bottom, something that was not done very often in the time that the Vikings came over to Wales, but why build a chest like this one here. If the mural at the rear of the cave was done over time, then Annalice would be able to determine when the cave was sculpted, but then she would have to tell someone else about her discoveries, and she was not quite ready to tell someone about her findings.
So either something would have to be found to answer Annalice’s questions in the chest, or around the area of the cave. But the chest would have to be more than just a final piece of a map, it had to be more, there had to be more to the chest than just something to put things into. Although it is just a chest, made of stone at the rear of a manmade cave, so the chest is clearly not ordinary as in other settlements that Annalice had previously been to over the years had a mysterious stone chest in them as well. So what is the connection between all of them, although the other chests had carvings that stated a danger was held within; but there was no explanation of what kind of danger lied within. The idea of danger lurking within must have been enforced expertly for the chests must not have been touched since being carved. For if the chests in the ruins had not been touched since being carved, then why have them if they meant nothing. Or the carvings that warned the people that there was a deep drop in the chest for no apparent reasoning, if so then chest was just meant to hold things within it that held great importance, like a bank?
Coming to this decision about the chest Annalice decided that if she was going to be staying in the cave for the rest of the summer, that she might as well put some of her things into the chest, keeping her food in a chest that was one with the ground would keep it more preserved and away from any animals that might decide that it was time for lunch. But then coming up with how to get the food back up and out of the chest could prove to be a difficult task, which could be dealt with when arriving at that task. Not knowing how deep the chest went was not a good thing, as Annalice could end up not being able to find an apparatus that could retrieve her food pack, but it was worth the gamble.
Going back over to the fire pit Annalice picked up her food pack; this pack was the only one that Annalice didn’t use as a pillow, so it was more beside the fire pit than the other packs. Bringing her pack over to the chest Annalice made sure that the pack was properly closed, in order to not have any of the contents escape from the pack. Leaning over the mouth of the chest brought some more detail to the chest, the back of the chest had groves that were placed at equal intervals like a ladder, there was also one of these indents on the inner front of the chest in order to go into the chest. So getting into the chest would be fairly easy, and getting out would be simple as well.
With a resounding THUD, Annalice’s food pack hit the bottom of the chest; it took fifteen seconds to reach the bottom. Falling down into the chest would result in a broken bone possibly, and if that happened Annalice’s parents surely would never let her go on any other prolonged adventures into the woods. Annalice would have to retrieve her pack sometime in the evening in order to have to the evening meal, so investigating the chests’ depths could happen then, in the meantime the cave walls held a visual story that hadn’t been read or observed in an extremely long time.
Going back to the entrance of the cave Annalice was able to trace where the etching started from where seamless cave mouth ended. The first section showed of the Vikings landing in Wales, and being driven inland to these mountains by the Welsh; driving the Vikings back must not have been easy task, but the image showed more Vikings dead then Welshmen. Making the mountain range a landlocked prison that the Welsh put the Vikings in, for there was a thick deep line in the next image that had a bow depicted on the side furthest from the mountain, the bow being a well-known symbol of the Welsh people. In the second image the first settlement was being raised, but there were signs of fire throughout the image, as though someone or something was constantly putting the Vikings through difficulties. The third image depicted a more stable cluster of settlements; there were only small signs of the fires, as though the Vikings had beaten back whatever was terrorizing them. The symbol of fire and terror resided throughout all of the images, even in the large map at the rear cave.
Throughout all of the images the settlements kept getting larger and spreading out around the mountains base, the settlements had at one point gotten too close to the boundary that the Welsh had set up to keep the Vikings within close proximity to the mountains (this could be why the water wheel buildings were still intact, as they were built by the Welsh and the Welshmen lived in them, in order to make sure that the Vikings didn’t leave their segregated area). The map on the rear wall of the cave didn’t show signs of buildings on or around the rivers closer to where the boundary would have been, although it showed some buildings that were more on the outskirts of the larger settlements.
When looking at the images on the left side of the rear of the cave, the lines started to become messier, as though the Vikings situation was worsening, for the symbol for the Welsh was way past the border that they had set for the Vikings. It was not explicit what the Welsh were doing as there was nothing written explaining what was happening in the image. So it left Annalice wondering if the Welsh had gone in and annihilated the Vikings with the help of extremely hot fires (knowing that the settlements were in advanced stages of ruin). This would not have been possible as fires hot enough to melt stone are extremely hard to maintain even today, that back then it would have been even more impossible; something would have had to help the Welsh maintain the fires. What the something was could be anything, from a fire breathing beast or the mountains, yet this mountain range did not hold any peaks that were or could be volcanic. So a creature must have helped the Welsh, for they would have to be able to sustain a fire that measured over at least a thousand degrees and live through it – the only known creatures that could be able to do this are a legend, and a figment of children’s imagination.
Yet somehow the impending doom of a civilization pushed the artist to work faster, for he was certainly pressed for time as the settlements were all being destroyed around the cave. With the settlements being destroyed it would give reason as to why all of the trees in the area around my house aren’t as old as the Ecologist’s had thought they would be, but a fire of that magnitude would have to be controlled somehow by the Welsh by a swath of drenched land or a canal that was made for the specific use for fire prevention. The whole area itself had a strange background to it, and none of the murals gave clear answers to what had happen so many years ago leaving Annalice to ponder what the Welsh were so determined to protect and hide from the rest of the known world by annihilating the Vikings.
Whatever the reason, it was not recorded by the Welsh, in any way shape or form. For the only people that might still know what had happened are descendants of the original Welshmen that weren’t kicked off of the mainland, and that would be an old strange man that lived nearly a hundred kilometres down the road, the closet to what a neighbour would be in the county in this area due to the mountains. No one talked him, as everyone thought that he was mentally insane, he probably went insane because of how isolated from the world he is, but he hadn’t died yet my father has told me. So he might be someone to get the answers to my questions, but can he be trusted to keep this information to himself.
While Annalice was pondering the murals the sun had fallen to the height of the trees outside of the cave, the light casted strange shadows into the cave, but the light that entered the cave was of a dark navy blue that could only be found on a clear night that didn’t have any stars in the sky yet.
The urge of food ended up being great enough that Annalice went over to the chest to retrieve her food pack, not thinking Annalice dropped into the chest, hitting the bottom sooner than she thought she would, and instead of the space inside the chest being the same size as it went down it opened up into a cavern causing the bottom to be closer than Annalice thought it would have been. Seeing the large expanse of the cavern Annalice now knew why the chest was there, it was a hidden door way to an underground system of caverns. It was as dark as starless sky with a new moon lighting the night in the cavern that Annalice had dropped into, and eerie shadowed openings stood waiting for someone to re-find their secrets across and to the sides of Annalice. Curiosity overcame Annalice, as she wanted to search the whole expanse of the caverns and its many crevices, but she would have to get back to the surface in order to grab her things. She knew she would have to find a way back up to the cave, to get her things, although there was no visible way to get back up into the cave from where she sat on the floor. Due to it being so dark it was hard to tell if there was any built in ladder along the wall, or if there was a wooden ladder against the smooth stone wall.
Annalice couldn’t find anything around the chest’s location, for the wall was flat around the opening, or at least where Annalice had checked. For when she crawled over to her food pack, she noticed that the seemingly flat wall was emitting a slight shadow, as though there were hand and foot holds carved out of the wall at precise intervals. But would the gaps be large enough to use as a ladder? There was only way for Annalice to figure out if the gaps in the wall would work as ladder; she would have to climb the wall.
After Annalice put her food pack in the middle of the cavern she went over to the wall in order to scale it. Although now Annalice had to see if she would be able to climb up the ladder properly with and without her packs, the climb up was easy, as the indents were set fairly deep within the walls face. The first pack that Annalice brought down was full of her maps, it was hard to start going down the ladder as the opening of the chest was not wide enough for Annalice and her pack to fit through simultaneously, so until she breached the cavern she had to go down the ladder in a sideways fashion. Once at the bottom she put her maps with her food pack, and repeated the process of bringing her other two packs down into the cavern.
When Annalice was done bringing her packs down into the cavern she began to dig through her largest pack, to look for her headlamp, for the cavern was extremely dark. For when Annalice was bringing her pack of technology down she bumped the lid of the chest in such a way that caused it to close as she climbed down the ladder for the last time, this was unfortunate because the scant light from the cave was enough to see a little ways into the vast cavern. Now the cavern was full of a thick darkness, of which was hard to penetrate with artificial light, Annalice knew that she had to take all of her packs with her as the possibility of getting lost was high.